American President George W. Bush made a surprise visit to Iraq on Monday. The U.S. leader, briefed by military commanders and Iraqi leaders, said some American forces could be sent home if security across Iraq improves as it has in Anbar province.
But the president did not say how many troops could be withdrawn or how soon. Bush said decisions about troop levels "will be based on a calm assessment by our military commanders on the conditions on the ground - not a nervous reaction by Washington politicians to poll results in the media.
"In other words," the president told cheering troops, "when we begin to draw down troops from Iraq it will be from a position of strength and success — not from a position of fear and failure."
Bush met with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker, who are testifying to Congress next week assessing the president's troop buildup.
"Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker tell me if the kind of success we're now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces," Bush said, according to the AP.
Bush urged Congress to wait until they hear testimony from Crocker and Petraeus next week and see a White House progress report due by Sept. 15 before judging the result of his decision to send an extra 30,000 troops to Iraq.
"I urge members of both parties in Congress to listen to what they have to say," he said. "We shouldn't jump to conclusions until the general and the ambassador report."
Bush also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other top government officials from Baghdad. He urged the government to respond to progress in Anbar. He also talked with Sunni tribal sheiks and members of Anbar's governing body.
The White House said Bush had arrived at the al-Asad Air Force base, west of Baghdad in Anbar province. He was accompanied by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Steven Hadley. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was also there, Reuters reported.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said: "This is very much the meeting of the war council." "This will be the last big gathering of the president's advisers and the Iraqi leaders before the president makes a decision on the way forward."
The stopover in Iraq had not been announced previously by the White House. Bush, who visited Iraq in June last year and previously in November 2003, is on his way to a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders in Sydney.